Jordanians are still under shock after the Al-Hussein Al-Salt Hospital incident, which killed nine, seven of them due to lack of oxygen on March 13, amid a concern in the street that this incident will pass, like its predecessors such as the Dead Sea tragedy, the Port Aqaba grain silo explosion, and others, without effective accountability.
This concern prompted people to go out and demonstrate in several areas demanding to hold those responsible for this painful humanitarian catastrophe accountable and putting an end to the administrative negligence and weakness that many public sector institutions have been experiencing, including the health sector. A few days ago, the statement of former health minister and head of the Parliamentary Health Committee, Dr. Yassin Al-Husban, was clear evidence of the existence of a deep-rooted corruption. He said, during his period in office in 2011, he discovered 612 employees working as nurses in the ministry of health, although they carry university degrees in geography, Sharia, or arts. He said that all of them were appointed through nepotism.
Therefore, the citizens' demands of real accountability are just, and all difficulties should be removed before meeting them. The unfortunate incident should be a starting point on the way of holding neglectful officials to account. However, in order for accountability to be achieved, it must be consistent with the established legal principles, and its goal should be identifying those responsible for this tragedy and impose appropriate penalties against them, away from buying time, waiting for the voices demanding accountability to diminish or using those accused as scapegoats. The essence of the desired accountability is boosting public confidence in the process of accountability itself and not to take it as a means of settling scores or use it to appease public outrage.
Only the weakness and general imbalance of the health system is what led to such a catastrophic outcome. Therefore, starting with the minister and ending with the employees, all are responsible for the incident. The minister’s political responsibility is represented by the work of his ministry according to Article 47/1 of the Jordanian constitution, which stipulates: “Every Minister shall be responsible for the conduct of all matters pertaining to his Ministry. He shall refer to the Prime Minister any matter not falling within his competence.”
Although the Minister of Health resigned after the incident, his resignation should not prevent holding him accountable. This principal is confirmed by Article 61 of the constitution which states: “His [the minster’s] resignation shall not prevent the institution of criminal proceedings against him, or the continuance of his trial”. Accordingly, this text confirms that the former Minister of Health is not exempted from the responsibility towards the work of his ministry despite his resignation.
On the other hand, the accountability of employees – according to their hierarchical administrative responsibility and their criminal responsibility, the decision of the Public Prosecution – requires presenting them before various judicial bodies to obtain a fair trial whose certain decision is based on independent foundations.
The Public Prosecution is the body entrusted with conducting the investigation in this case in accordance with Article 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states: “The public prosecution shall have jurisdiction over instituting the common right lawsuit, which shall not be instituted except by the public prosecution except in the cases illustrated in the law.”
It is surprising that several committees, other than the Public Prosecution, have been formed to investigate the same case, which may lead to distracting or obstructing the investigation and might produce conflicting results. This puts many question marks about the executive authority's encroachment on the judiciary.
Furthermore, various media outlets quoted the Prime Minister “ordering” the President of the Judicial Council to initiate the investigation, and, in another statement, the Prime Minister “requested” the Public Prosecution to conduct the investigation. The Public Prosecution should carry out the investigation without order or request from the executive authority in accordance with the principle of the independence of the judicial authority established in Article 97 of the Constitution which stipulates: “Judges are independent, and in the exercise of their judicial functions they are subject to no authority other than that of the law.”
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stipulates the following: “2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.” This text, hence, stresses that true accountability is a basic guarantor for developing the performance of the public sector and providing a decent health service that preserves the health of citizens and translates international principles that require taking the necessary measures to do so.
As painful as losing a number of people is, the fact that the accident resulted from an administrative error that was the result of accumulated corruption is even more painful. This dangerous incident can either be a starting point on the path of accountability and real control over the health sector employees and radically ending administrative corruption, or it can be another episode in a series of corruption that continues without any effective oversight or clear mechanisms to combat and eliminate it.